Last time I talked about my excitement for LotRO’s Shadowfax progression server, with its faster leveling and fast expansion release cadence, and pondered what class to play. I still hadn’t decided by the time the new servers went up, so I ended up just rolling a bunch of characters and seeing which one stuck.
After a lot of waffling and self-induced anxiety and an existential crisis or two, I ended up maining a Captain. A High Elf, believe it or not. I’m not a big Elf person (they’re kind of jerks in every universe) but they have some cool animations and a unique shout, and I have the High Elf race, so why not? Captain is just such a comfortable class for me. While I played one a bunch back in my early days with LotRO, I hadn’t played one seriously in years, but it all came back to me very quickly. I’ve been leveling in tank spec, just because I was previously DPS. Cappy DPS isn’t that great to begin with, so I can’t say I felt a lot of difference in TTK, but the extra survivability is definitely noticeable.
As I was trying different alts, I tinkered with the new difficulty settings. I landed on Hard, mostly because that’s the minimum difficulty to get the account-wide title (which I will never use, because when you have the title “Walked Into Mordor” why would you ever use anything else?) and because it was just enough added challenge to be fun, but not enough to make killing every random mob feel like a chore. LotRO isn’t known for its difficult open world content, but I don’t think I realized just how weak it really is until I forgot that I was on hard mode, then went into a quest instance and was bewildered at how fast I was mowing down mobs above my level. Then I remembered that difficulty settings don’t work in instances. I would probably be playing on Deadly or higher difficulty on at least some of my tankier characters, just for the novelty of the challenge, but the random AoE nukes are more annoying than fun. The constant dread visual effect and the Eye of Sauron popping up over your head every few minutes were extremely distracting, which was a big turnoff initially, but fortunately SSG removed those after a few days. I wish I could talk my friends into playing on this server with me, because I think it would be a blast to get a party together and crank the difficulty up to max and play through the whole game like it was one giant dungeon.
The culture of the Shadowfax server is interesting. I haven’t done a rigorous population study or anything, but from the frequency of chat and the number of people I bump into while leveling, it seems like there’s a decent population, comparable to maybe one of the smaller regular servers. Oddly enough, there aren’t really a lot of guilds. There’s one mega guild that I see recruiting pretty much every time I play, and apart from that, I’ve seen maybe one or two others. I know that there’s no real point in hitting the gear treadmill when it’s all going to be invalidated every two months when a new expansion gets added, but that’s not usually the main reason I join a guild anyway. I’m mostly there for the social aspect (the fellowship, if you will excuse the pun). Instance runs are just a convenient side effect. The LFF channel is pretty lively, though, with people PUGing dungeons and raids much more frequently than I usually see on my regular server. I saw some naysayers claiming that there wouldn’t be an economy on Shadowfax, but I’ve been making a pretty good living off of dyes so far. Maybe that means I’m the only one bothering with crafting?
The biggest reason I didn’t stick around LotRO’s original progression server was that I fell behind the curve and couldn’t catch back up as new expansions unlocked. From what I’ve heard, it seems like it lost a lot of population because of this, and because speedier players drifted away waiting for content unlocks. In my view, Shadowfax has fixed this both problems speeding up leveling and speeding up expansion unlocks. I know most of LotRO’s population is more keen on Treebeard, and I may roll there after I get a character or two up to cap, but for now, Shadowfax is my LotRO home.
I’m not one of those people who roots for villains in media. I’ve always found it to be a little disturbing when people do. Why would you want the evil, mass murdering bad guy to win? What does that say about your own personality? But there is one bad guy that I do really like (and he’s the only one that I can think of) and that is Thrawn from the Star Wars universe. He never graced the big screen, but he was so much more interesting than any of the villains who did, because, rather than being a Sith, whose only aspiration is to amass and hold personal power through fear, manipulation, and coercion, Thrawn is a master military strategist. His specialty is getting inside the minds of his opponents by studying their culture, especially their art, and using that information to extrapolate what they will do in a battle. Implausible? Sure, but no more than any other sci-fi/sci-fantasy villain trope. There’s something interesting about a villain who is just smarter than everyone else in the galaxy, who has an intuitive understanding of how people think. He can beat force-users, not by overpowering them as so many Star Wars villains try to do, but by outmaneuvering them. He conquers, not because he wants to sit, dragon-like, on the horde of all the power and glory he has amassed, but because he enjoys the challenge. It’s all a chess game to him.
I read Timothy Zahn’s original 1990s Thrawn trilogy some years ago (long after it came out, but well before the Disney buyout) and, more recently, I’ve been reading Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising (I somehow missed the first new canon Thrawn trilogy, but I will definitely have to circle back around after I’m done with Ascendency). I’m sure many authors look back at their older works and ponder what they would have done differently, but it must be an interesting and unique opportunity for Zahn to get the chance to rewrite the history of one of his most beloved characters within a whole new canon. I’ve been loving Ascendency because it’s the story of how the Republic made contact with the Chiss Ascendency from the Chiss point of view. The first book is almost over before the Republic, the Jedi, or the Force (by that name) are even mentioned. Most of this book is establishing lore about Chiss culture, and I’m lapping it up. I imagine some readers might find it tedious, since it’s very disconnected from the greater Star Wars universe, even though you know it’s going to get there sooner or later, but personally, I’m in no hurry to get back to boring old Anakin being in the spotlight again.
Of course, with all of this talk of the Chiss, I wanted to role play as one, so to Star Wars: The Old Repbulic I went. I rolled a new Chiss Assassin. In Legends canon, which SWTOR is still a part of, Chiss hold a societal stigma against Force sensitives, so those individuals suppress their abilities with drugs or face exile. As a Chiss force user, my character has faced a lot of trauma: She was told she was an embarrassment to her family, then sold into slavery to the Sith, who want to train her as a weapon of war. Despite all of this, she maintains a light side alignment, because all she wants is to find peace and serenity in a galaxy of chaos and conflict. While most Sith thrive on violence, she avoids it wherever possible, because she has found that she is most connected to the Force when she feels calm, and killing disrupts that calm more than anything. Being raised in the Ascendancy and the Sith Empire, she doesn’t know much about the Jedi way, she just knows that the Sith philosophy is wrong, but is trapped inside their system. Maybe if she plays the system long enough, she can escape and pursue inner peace? But at what cost?
I love that this game encourages mental role play the way it does. The game forces none of this on me, except that I was a Force sensitive slave who worked her way up through the ranks, and even that is easily ignored if you have a different backstory in mind. I’ve never role played this with any other players, and to be honest I’m not really that interested in doing so (especially on the Empire side; a lot of the roleplay that happens there is not something I want to be associated with), it’s all just the mental story I’m writing within the bounds of the game. It’s frustrating when the three options you’re given don’t include what you imagine your character saying, but that doesn’t stop me from mentally inserting my own dialogue. Star Wars lore is so rich and deep that it’s fun to imagine different characters with different alignments and take them through even stories you’ve played before. This is the same story as it was the last time I did this on my Sorc (also a Chiss, incidentally; my character roster is like 50% Chiss), but she was kind of a neutral dark side, not cruel for cruelty’s sake, just selfishly doing whatever she can to climb the Sith political ladder. Yet, even though the events are the same, it feels very different because my character is so different.
To be fair, not all class stories are so flexible; if you come up with a good enough justification, you can easily play a light side Sith, but a dark side Trooper just goes around committing war crimes left and right and gets nothing worse than a stern look from General Garza. I never said the game was perfect, just fun.
I was perusing the Guild Wars 2 Reddit the other day, and I was struck by how many Elementalist nerf memes there were. Sure, it’s Reddit, they like to be negative about everything, but it’s kinda true. Elems, Weavers especially, have a significantly more complex rotation compared to other classes, for little to no more DPS output (depending on the fight; they still shine certain circumstances, but I’m talking more broadly), and on top of that, they’re the squishiest class, sporting light armor and the smallest health pool in the game. And this most recent balance patch somehow managed to make it even worse. This is supposed to be the class that has the best theoretical maximum DPS, but with a rotation that makes it hard to hit that potential all the time. Nerfing that potential takes away any incentive I have to put in the work it takes to learn that spec.
Elementalist is my least favorite GW2 class, so I’m not personally too affected by this, but it reminds me of what I’ve seen in other MMOs time and time again; when they’re new, they try new things with a complex class that rewards hard work, then, over time, as metas shake out, players of other classes start to complain about the fact that their (much simpler) class can’t parse the same numbers as everyone else, and eventually the devs cave and homogenize everything. This happened to the Jedi Shadow/Sith Assassin tank in SWTOR; at one point, Shadows, who, oddly enough, wear light armor, made nearly unkillable tanks at endgame, but were hard to play because their rotation required a lot of cooldown management. Now, after years of nerfs and changes in encounter design, they have been out of favor for a while now. Similarly, LOTRO’s Warden was famous for its combo system that allowed it to accomplish incredible feats of buffing, debuffing, tanking, healing, and DPS all at once, soloing on-level instances meant for whole parties. But now, it is a pale reflection of its former self, and can be outshined in any area by other classes, and is really only played by those who find its frantic, muscle memory-heavy playstyle gratifying.
I also wouldn’t be happy if these games just dumbed down their complex classes along with a nerf. I think there should be some classes that reward complex play, and others that are more accessible with less reward.
I’m all for good balance, but good balance doesn’t mean that every class needs to do the same amount of DPS. If it did, you could effectively put different graphics on the same set of abilities for every class and call it a day. Some classes should put out less damage because they provide other utility, and some classes should reward complex play with more damage output.
Lord of the Rings Online announced its speed-leveling Shadowfax server and its slowmo-leveling Treebeard server just a few short weeks ago, and now we know they’re coming this Wednesday. As someone who has been playing LotRO for ages but has never made it past Mirkwood, I’m excited for the fast leveling server. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like if this game did what Star Wars the Old Republic did and upped the XP output of the main story quests so you can focus exclusively on those while leveling, choosing to do side quests only if you’re interested in them, not as a primary means to level. I’m not sure if Shadowfax will boost leveling speed quite that much, but since LotRO doesn’t have SWTOR’s level scaling, that’s probably for the best. Sorry, Treebeard, as much as I love you as a character, I felt like Arnor’s leveling was too slow, so I don’t think your even slower pace is for me.
So the question is, what class do I want to level this time? I might still be on Arnor if I hadn’t started with Warden, realized that class wasn’t for me, rerolled, and then felt hopelessly behind. Ok, I probably would have ended up hopelessly behind anyway, because that’s how it goes with me and this game, but still, picking the right class the first time around is important with these limited time progression servers.
I’ve never made a serious attempt at a Guardian. I know they’ve fallen out of favor as tanks, but I’m probably going to be playing mostly solo anyway, so DPS is fine. Besides, the health regen-focused red line and the melee AoE-focused yellow line both sound interesting.
I’ve had a Minstrel for a long time, but I’ve never put serious time into him, which is something I regret. It’s a fun class, and I like healing. Besides, Bards are such an iconic RPG staple, and so many MMOs are missing them these days.
I have a high level captain, but it has been years at this point since she was my main, and I kind of have the urge to level a new one. I always played in DPS spec, and I know captains are considered the best tanks right now, so I could always try leveling in tank spec. It might go a little slower, but the faster leveling speed should more than make up for that, right?
Finally, I rolled a new Hunter after their rework a while back, but honestly felt like it made everything a little too easy. Then again, I never made it out of Bree-Land, so maybe with faster leveling, I’ll get to more challenging content before I get too bored, and be glad for the extra power.
Right now I’m leaning toward one of the two tank classes. Logically, I feel like I should want to play the Guardian, since it’s new to me, but I’ve also been thinking about the Cappy a lot lately. We’ll see how I feel Wednesday!
I’ve been a fan of The Elder Scrolls Online ever since it reinvented itself with the One Tamriel update. For the last few years, it has been solidly my number two MMO after Guild Wars 2, but the Greymoor expansion was a huge turnoff for me for a lot of little reasons that added up to me pretty much quitting the game for a year.
Greymoor started off at a big disadvantage, because it followed hot on the heels of Elsweyr, which I think will always be peak ESO for me. Elsweyr had a quirky, light-hearted vibe, which was such a nice change of pace from this game’s usual heavy, oppressive atmosphere. I mean, Elsweyr is a land of cat-people, who, depending on the moon phase they were born under, range in size from a normal house cat that can talk and do magic, to your standard playable humanoid Khajiit, to tigers gone Hulk. The zone was colorful, the story was engaging, the characters were memorable, and it added a lot to Elder Scrolls lore. Then came Greymoor, and it was the exact opposite. For one, it decided to beat the dead horse that is Skyrim. I’ve never liked any of the single-player Elder Scrolls games, and while Skyrim is the one I’ve put the most time into, it never grabbed me, so I don’t have fond memories of putting hundreds of hours into it like some people do. As if bleak vikingland wasn’t off-putting enough, ZOS decided to layer on vampires and gothic horror, which gave me eye strain, not only from squinting to see inside of shadowy subterranean castles, but also from rolling my eyes so hard. Just what we needed in 2020: Dark, bleak, and angsty. The Markarth DLC wasn’t much better, and was only bearable because Pippin was in it (seriously, how did ZOS not advertise that they got Billy Boyd to voice a character in their DLC? He’s not even credited on IMDB, but it has been confirmed to be him by official sources. Marketing fail). I slowly slogged my way through the stories of both, but only out of a sense of obligation.
Anyways, that was last year, last expansion. I was more than a little afraid that I was going to have similar feelings about Blackwood, and if I did, it might be the end of my time in ESO. After all, it’s a retread of a locale from another TES game I own but barely played with an even more edgy Macguffin: Hellgates run by a four-armed devil who wants to destroy the world for no apparent reason. But so far, the story has had a lot less of the “Oh noes, the end times are upon us” stuff that I thought I was going to find, but rather feels more a mystery novel (something that the NPCs keep reminding us, which I find kind of immersion breaking, but whatever). Also, choosing Eveli Sharp-Arrow, a spunky Wood Elf who you may remember as the best part of the Orsinium DLC, to be the main character of this one, and then pairing her with Lyranth, a sarcastic daedra from Coldharbor, was a great way to keep things light, even when you do get to the doom and gloom parts.
Speaking of story, is it just me or does this game talk down to us more and more each expansion? There was a part where my character had learned some information earlier in the story, explained it to one NPC, and then literally turned around and another NPC explained the whole plot, which I just explained to someone else within earshot of her, back to me again. There have always been optional “Wait, who are you and what were we just doing?” conversation branches here and there, and that’s fine. Maybe you left the game for a while and now you’re back and wrapping up old quests want a refresher on what’s going on. That’s actually a great thing that I think a lot of RPGs could learn from. But this was just straight up narrative hand-holding. It’s not like the narrative is even that complex; if you’re paying attention, you’ll get it, and if you’re not paying attention, you probably don’t care enough to listen to the review session, do you? Don’t get me wrong, most of the story is great, but there are also some moments scattered throughout where it just feels like the writers think we’re stupid.
The biggest selling point of this expansion for me was the companion system. This has the potential to be a real gamechanger, especially for people who like to play alone or in small groups. Sure, companions crank out only a fraction of the DPS of a human player, but it might be just enough to duo or even solo a lot of dungeons with some effort (I’m sure there are people who do this already, but I mean possible for us mere mortals). Not content to simply hand you human pets, ESO went the extra mile to give the two companions added thus far their own story, and giving them their own reactions to what the player chooses to do, which gives me real SWTOR vibes.
Of course, there are only two companions in this expansion, and everyone already is asking when the next one will be available, and who they will be. Some are hoping for various well-known NPCs, but I kind of doubt that will happen. As cool as it would be to have Razum-Dar or Naryu at my beck and call, it seems more likely to me that companions will be new characters created specifically to be companions, so they’re more of a blank slate. Plus, it would make doing old quests that involve that character kind of awkward. Then again, I once saw Abnur Tharn in three different places wearing three different outfits in the same room in the Mages’ Guild, so who knows. Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff happens in this game. Either way, nobody should be surprised if companions start popping up in the cash shop for at least $30 a pop, because ESO will use any trick in the book when it comes to monetization.
I promised last time that I would talk more about Lord of the Rings Online’s new Wildwood zone, so here we are. But before we get into that, can I just gush about how much I’m enjoying the Burglar class? To be fair, all of LotRO’s classes are fun, but I always thought Burg was one of my least favorite. I’m not saying I like it more than the Beorning or Rune-Keeper, but it has a nice, simple rotation, a lot of cooldown tricks to boost your DPS or get you out of trouble, just enough cleave, and stealth is always nice when you just don’t feel like dealing with enemies right now. Plus, the burglar is just so quintessential to Middle-Earth.
Of course, coming back to this character after a long while, I had to design a new outfit for him. I was going for a well-to-do Hobbit look with this one, inspired, of course, by Bilbo Baggins, when I realized that I was inadvertently cosplaying Scrooge McDuck from the 2017 Ducktales reboot. New Ducktales is a fantastic series with an incredible voice cast — a rare case of a modern reboot that actually outshines its predecessor — so I decided to just run with it. If anyone knows of any 1-H weapons that look like fancy little canes, let me know and I will totally rock those.
I mused last time about why SSG chose to even create the Wildwood zone in the first place. I have since read a few theories, from the one I gave, that they realized that Angmar is the worst zone in the history of MMOs and people want a way to sidestep it (I always forget that there’s already Forochel to do this, though I guess many people don’t find arctic/snow zones particularly inviting either), to the theory that their metrics showing that a lot of players get bored with the game around that level (anecdotally, I have to say, I do have an inordinate number of characters abandoned around the Misty Mountains) and wanted something fresh and inviting to keep them occupied. Still others pointed out that all of the mobs in this zone drop pages to those books that give you a skill point when you catch ‘em all, not just the humanoids as usual (why did this wasp have a page of The Expert’s Guide to Dirty Fighting? We may never know), and that this may have been designed as a way for players to get all of their skill points in before moving on to Moria without having to farm as hard for them. I feel like if that was the sole purpose, though, it would have been much easier to have the pages just drop from everything in the existing zones. Whatever the reason, it’s still a bit odd, but I’m enjoying having something new to do on an alt that doesn’t require me doing years worth of old content first.
Wildwood is kind of a strange zone for LotRO, because there isn’t really much of an overarching story going on here as far as I can tell. Certainly nothing tying it to the trilogy. Just a bunch of people (and one random Ent for some reason) hanging out in the middle of nowhere, asking you to do stuff for them. And I do mean in the middle of nowhere; it took some wandering around before I even found any quests, since, if there are breadcrumbs leading you here, I missed them entirely. For anyone else looking, there are quest hubs on the east and west ends, near the borders to Tresselbridge and Evendim, and another smaller one near the very center of the zone. Orcs have taken over a few villages in the area, but, while you get a daily popup quest to kill them and blow up their stuff (seriously, why do their supply crates explode so violently? Are they shipping Star Trek bridge consoles or what?), nobody really seems especially worried about them. Apparently that’s no more urgent than hunting moose.
Speaking of fighting things, I love that new combat musical cue. It reminds me of some of the vanilla LotRO combat music, but with a twist. Well done as always, Bill Champagne!
The new missions are a bit underwhelming. I’m not sure if the ones in the Three Peaks DLC were any better (I doubt it), but between these and The Further Adventures of Bilbo Baggins, I feel like missions are less like skirmishes, as I was hoping, and more like regular old quests that happen to take place in an instance that scales to your level and group size. It’s not terrible, just not the tentpole feature SSG is touting them as. At least there are a lot of them, so if you do decide to grind missions for currency or levels, it’s not like you’re stuck running the same instance over and over.
The rewards from these missions aren’t that appealing either. The mining pick weapon skin could be cool for a dwarf, and some of the pets aren’t bad (some of them, like the moose, would have been cooler as mounts, but I’m not surprised since this game is very stingy with any mount that isn’t a new blanket thrown over a boring old horse/pony), but nothing I’m really excited to grind for. There’s some good jewelry in there, I guess, but I’m never that excited by gear I’m going to quickly outlevel anyway.
It has been a lot of fun getting to know my Burglar again while exploring this new zone. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with him once I’ve outleveled it. Do I want to take him through Moria? I’d really like to get back to my Beorning, who I also love, and push into some content I’ve never seen. And I was just talking to a friend about how much I used to enjoy playing my Captain, who I haven’t played in ages because I level boosted her to Mordor and then couldn’t progress because the TTK and mob density was so ridiculous. Maybe I could grind a level or two in Wildwood missions and give Mordor another try while a little overleveled? I have no shortage of options in LotRO, I just wish I had the time to explore them all.
Way back in the day when The Lord of the Rings Online first went free-to-play, before I even started this blog, my very first character was a Hobbit Burglar by the name of Banswin. Technically I think I made a Human Hunter first, but I quickly lost interest in him (thus beginning a long-standing tradition of my first character in an MMO being doomed). For quite a while, he was my main character. He made it all the way to The Last Homely House in Rivendell, till I got distracted by the Captain and then that was my main for a while, followed by a string of others. But this story is not about them, it is about Banswin, who has been chilling with Elrond and Bilbo for ten years now (ten? Really? I am old). Hey, at least I parked him in a pretty zone. He may have thought that he had hung up his daggers for good and was enjoying his retirement, but this hobbit is finally back to his burgling ways.
I’ve been casually logging into LotRO now and then for a few weeks now, making my way slowly through the early Mirkwood series on my Beorning (my current main), and I keep thinking about that new Wildwood zone they added in Bree-land. I’m not sure why Standing Stone randomly decided to add a new zone to the middle of the game like that, but I’m not going to complain. Anything will get me ready for Moria without having to go through Angmar is ok in my book. Is that why they added it? 14 years later they finally figured out that Angmar is the worst? Who knows. I was tempted to level a whole new character from scratch — I don’t have a Guardian, and I’ve got that one Stout-Axe Champion who is still in the starting zone — but I have far too many alts in this game and nobody near level cap, so I managed to talk myself out of that one.
So I flipped through my catalog of alts and took a few for a test drive, ultimately settling on my burglar. For one, he was level 40, meaning that I wouldn’t have much leveling to do before he was ready for Wildwood at 45ish. For another, oh my goodness this class cranks out a lot of DPS now. I remember getting bored of him back in the day because the class was more group support focused and not very fun to play solo. I’m not sure what changed, be it the decade of balance patches, the fact that I likely didn’t build him optimally back then, or the fact that I was a lot newer to MMOs back then and therefore just wasn’t as good (or, most likely, all three combined) but so far every enemy I’ve run into just kind of melts. Sure, I have to be in melee range, and I’m doing almost exclusively single target damage with a couple of cleaves in my crit chain, but still, I feel like this class is overpowered.
I’m sure I’ll have some thoughts on Wildwood, but for now I have just finished LotRO’s other new bit of content, The Further Adventures of Bilbo Baggins, which is giving me a lot of the same feelings as Guild Wars 2’s Dragon Response Missions: I love the idea on paper, but the way they’ve executed it has been bafflingly boring. That said, the title it rewards is perfect for my mood right now:
Until next time, keep a close eye on your gold-pouches, or a sneaky Hobbit may help himself to them!
Finally, Magic: Legends has launched. I’ve been excited for this one ever since I got to demo it at last year’s PAX East. Technically this is open beta, but with the promise of no wipes in the future, it’s basically a launch, so let’s call it such. Let’s be honest, it has been far from the smoothest game launch in history. I’ve been seeing a lot of hot takes on this game, and I disagree with a lot of them. Yes, I know Cryptic and PWE are bajillion dollar companies and don’t need me to do their PR for them (not that their PR has been great), but it has been bothering me, so I thought I would write up my thoughts. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, or maybe there are others like me out there who just aren’t as vocal about it. Either way, I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.
First of all, I see a lot of people saying that this is not an MMO. Sure, just about every time we have an MMO launch, some guy goes on the MMORPG subreddit and complains that X isn’t a REAL MMO and should be banned from discussion there because it doesn’t have something or other, but I’ve been seeing this even from people who usually champion a really broad definition of the term “MMO.”
I take issue with the idea that this isn’t an MMO; if you say that this is not an MMO, you have to discount every MMO that is structured with social hubs/lobbies with heavily instanced zones, from Guild Wars to Star Trek Online to Destiny. Maybe these people haven’t gotten past the tutorial, which, to be fair, is extremely long and handholdey, into the part of the game where you enter Sanctum, which opens up the game significantly and allows you to craft and trade with other players on the auction house and all of those MMO trappings. Maybe they’re even confusing it with Torchlight III/Frontiers, another PWE ARPG that definitely did get downgraded from an MMO to just an RPG that happened to have online multiplayer. Sure, I wish it was a traditional, open world MMO where I can run into other players all the time. I wish party size limits were higher, at least four so my wife and I could play with another couple and one of us wouldn’t have to sit out. It’s fine to be disappointed with the game we got. But I don’t think it’s fair to say it isn’t an MMO because of those restrictions.
This is very much a Cryptic MMO: It’s more than passably pretty, there are myriad customization options which players can swap between freely, and characters are equally highly customizable from a gameplay standpoint. On the other hand, it’s also a Cryptic MMO in that it is buggy, poorly optimized, and does a terrible job explaining its systems (which makes its frustratingly drawn out tutorial all the more frustrating). I guess you could say that it’s beta and that will get better. I’m sure it will get a little better, but I remember all too clearly Star Trek Online’s launch being plagued with similar problems 11 years ago (was it really that long? Dang, I’m old) and it is still struggling with many of them.
Oh, and there are lockboxes. Lockboxes are bad and they should feel bad, but I’m kind of past getting worked up about them, I just don’t buy them. It was a dumb move to put the very first premium class in a lockbox (during soft launch beta, mind you), but again, I’m not going to get worked up about it. At least they don’t shove them into my inventory as drops and beg me to buy keys — or worse, spam my screen when someone somewhere on the server opens one and gets a rare shiny — like Star Trek Online does. I don’t mind the battle pass. If I decide I’m going to play a lot, I will happily drop $10 on that. If I’m going to play only casually, I’m fine with ignoring it. And I think putting the class at the end of that grind was a good compromise.
I especially think the outrage over the lockbox class is overblown because classes don’t even matter that much in this game, cards do. M:L’s classes only determine your autoattack, two cooldown abilities, and a few passives. The meat of your combat is determined by cards, and you can still use any cards you want with any class. Are the abilities and passives on that lockbox class better than on the ones I get for free? Maybe, I haven’t even bothered to look, but I doubt it’s better enough to justify all the fuss. I think it’s pretty analogous to STO’s pricey, cash shop- or lockbox-only Tier 6 ships. You can easily do all of the story content in STO with a free T5 ship, even on hard more, and, while I haven’t done group content in years, I doubt your dungeon run is going to wipe because you don’t have a few percent better stats. Gear matters more. STO even gives away T6 ships periodically, if you’re willing to do some daily grinding to get it. That’s basically the same as the battle pass. Technically, yeah, I guess it’s pay-to-win, but, unless you want to be an elite endgamer, it can be very easily ignored.
All of those rants aside, I’m having a lot of fun with this game. Once the game takes the training wheels off, things really open up and it’s a lot of fun mixing and matching cards to come up with crazy builds that function just the way you want. I’ve always been a fan of summoner-type classes in any MMO, though ARPGs seem to be where they thrive the most for whatever reason. In this game, some deck types (like the black and green) focus on creatures, but pretty much any class will allow you to summon at least a few different varieties of minion. I’ve personally been running the brawler Geomancer class with a lot of red cards, with big earth elementals that taunt and a lot of little goblins that swarm my enemies, not to mention lots of mobility for getting in and out of melee range. I’ve combined that with a few blue cards that give me some crowd control and additional minions. Since red is themed around rock and fire, and blue is themed around water and wind, I’m calling this my Avatar deck.
Like in every MMO, I’m sure the decks and gear sets in this game will eventually shake down to a number of meta setups, but I hope players don’t get too snobbish about weird, fun builds. Even if they do, I will probably run some of them solo, because, to me, that’s the selling point of this game.
The story is… there. Maybe I would be more excited if I was more familiar with Magic lore, but so far it seems like it’s mostly just an excuse to move me from zone to zone. The voice acting is so-so.
What I am impressed with is this game’s animation. Previous Cryptic games tend to suffer from very stiff, awkward animations, but everything in M:L is buttery smooth. The particle effects are beautiful, if a little overwhelming at times (I guess this is part of why they chose to limit instances to three people; imagine the mess that twice as many particles and minions clogging up your screen would create).
Will this be my next big MMO obsession? Nah, but it might be a good side game I jump in and out of from time to time. That’s what Marvel Heroes was for me, and since that has shut down with no apparent hope of return, this seems to be the best replacement for that that has come along. I have no connection to the Magic IP, but then again, I really didn’t care much about Marvel when I started playing Marvel Heroes (I didn’t even see The Avengers until it had been out on DVD for a year or two). I just want an MMO ARPG with nice gameplay variety that is constantly updating and adding new things to do. Despite its flaws, that seems like what Magic: Legends is going to be, so I’m excited to play it more.
As you may recall from last time, I have recently started playing retail World of Warcraft for the first time. Call me fashionably late. This means I have sixteen years worth of content to chew through. Chromie Time means that characters no longer need to progress through each expansion in order. In fact, all of my characters thus far have hit 50 before I was finished with an expansion story, which means that, in order to see it all, I have to create a bunch of alts. Oh darn, you know how much I hate making alts. (Please note the dripping sarcasm; I love making alts) I’ve made it a point to spread them all out across all of the expansions. Repeating content isn’t that fun, and one of the appeals of starting this game so late is that there is a ton to explore that I haven’t seen.
Since I’m seeing all of this with fresh eyes, with little to no nostalgia goggles and out of its historical context, I thought it might interest some to read my thoughts on each expansion. Remember that these mini-reviews from a mostly solo, story/leveling point of view, so the fact that Expansion X was boring but had great raids means nothing to me, because I’m not even in a guild, and my experiences with the dungeon finder have been mixed at best, so while that may have been important at the time, it doesn’t really make any difference to me right now.
Ok, so Vanilla doesn’t really exist anymore because of Cataclysm, but I’ve puttered around Classic a bit, and while I didn’t get super far, I got far enough to know it wasn’t for me. Leveling is at a snail’s pace, and many classes are designed such that they don’t get interesting skills until the mid-to-high levels, forcing you to slog through the boring parts to get there. This isn’t helped by the fact that quests are scattered randomly, and, sans addons, the map doesn’t give you any hints about where anything is, leaving you to wander around in frustration. In short, I would say it was poorly designed. Or, perhaps more accurately, well designed to waste players’ time. Like I said above, endgame might be great, but I’m just not that interested in WoW’s endgame.
WoW’s first expansion introduced the concept quest hubs, which makes the leveling process bearable. However, it still feels very old. I don’t have a good explanation of why, it just does. Maybe it’s the graphics? I’m not usually a graphics snob, so maybe it has as much to do with the more recently updated character models in contrast to the older landscape? Maybe it’s the writing? Maybe it’s the more mundane and repetitive quest structure? Either way, I’ve never made it past the second zone. Maybe one day.
Wrath of the Lich King
Wrath is the oldest expansion I actually feel like I wouldn’t mind playing all the way through. For one thing, the Lich King/Scourge has always been a more interesting villain than the Burning Legion. It also gave us my favorite class, Death Knight, so it has that going for it. Plus, I always like icy zones. Better than BC’s desolate hellscape at least. It still feels a little old and creaky, but in a way that doesn’t make me want to quit. Again, I’m not sure why it feels better than BC, it just does.
I didn’t really like leveling in the vanilla zones in Classic, and while Cata improved the quest flow, I’m still not that excited about the old world. That said, there’s a lot of it, so I’m sure there is interesting stuff I’ve just never seen. Also, I’m not super clear on which areas are new and which areas are overhauled vanilla zones. If you pick Cata from Chromie, she just sends you to the mission board and has you pick a zone out of three random options, so it sort of feels like there’s no direction here, which is itself kind of a turnoff.
Mists of Pandaria
Pandaria, in my mind, is where WoW starts feeling like a modern MMO. First off, it’s the first time that I’ve felt like WoW was genuinely pretty. There were many places in the old world that were pretty given the limitations of the era, but I would say that just about anywhere in Pandaria is objectively prettier than anything that came before it, and holds up even nine years later. Along with better graphics, it brought more voice acting to the game (including the inimitable Jim Cummings, voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Doctor Robotnik (the best one), Darkwing Duck, Hando Ohnaka, and some random character from half of every animated thing you’ve ever watched). While I don’t consider voice a requirement for a good game, it certainly makes characters more interesting and memorable, even if it’s not every line.
The story is very different from others that came before it too, a little more chill, while still maintaining a sense of urgency. Pandarens have quickly become one of my favorite races. Any expansion that adds a new class automatically gains points in my book, and the Monk is a fun, dynamic class that brings some truly interesting and different mechanics to the game.
Warlords of Draenor
I think Draenor is my favorite expansion. I love time travel and alternate universe stories to begin with, but I think this also clicked with me because it had a lot of callbacks to characters from the Warcraft RTS games, which was previously my main exposure to the Warcraft-verse. Additionally, garrisons are like having your own little RTS base, down to ordering peons around to gather resources for you. I feel like I need to expand soon, though; surely my mines are running low. I know the lore has always been integrated, but this expansion makes me feel like Warcraft 1-3 and WoW are part of the same universe in a way that previously content didn’t.
The only thing I don’t like about it is that the transmog skins in this expansion are all super ugly. Lots of horns and iron spikes and rough-hewn hides on everything. I’m sure there are some people who live for this look, but they’re basically everything I dislike in a skin.
I’ve already stated that I’m not a huge fan of the Burning Legion as an enemy faction, but, all things considered, this is a pretty solid expansion. I liked the idea of class-specific artifact weapons that you continuously upgrade. They’re like LotRO’s legendary items, except not as terrible. Given LotRO’s long-standing problems with them, I’m fine with them being a one-expansion feature, too. That said, some of the modifiers were really cool, and I wish Blizzard had found a way to continue with those rather than just throw artifacts out the window as soon as BfA came around, but since I knew this was coming, I wasn’t too broken up about it when I hit 50 on my Legion character.
I have mixed emotions about the Demon Hunter class. On the one hand, it’s one of the most eye-rollingly edgelord classes ever to come out of the MMO genre (and there have been many). On the other hand, you get a Guild Wars 2-style glider. In some ways it doesn’t feel that different from a Rogue — a melee class with big, facerolly damage, good mobility, and what basically amounts to a combo point system — without stealth, and the added complication of those purple orb things that heal you and fill your fury bar. Plus the race choices are limited to elves, which generally aren’t my favorite.
Battle for Azeroth
I actually liked Battle for Azeroth quite a bit. The Alliance side was boring (three different zones, three different variations on [New] England) but the Horde side had a nice variety of visual styles, and a more interesting storyline. Quality aside, I just generally like it when the two factions are given some different zones to play through, since it gives me more to do as someone who likes to flipflop between factions. Granted, I completely ignored island expeditions, which I think was most players’ main complaint with this expansion, so take that as you will.
Given that Shadowlands is the current expansion, and I’m still not all the way through it, I think it deserves a post all of its own. Maybe zone by zone. Suffice it to say for now that I’m not impressed with the new hotness. It’s fine, but I’m really not into the story, and collecting powers that only work in one zone doesn’t do much for me.
So there you have it. Feel free to disagree with me, but those are my thoughts on each WoW expansion. I’m having a lot of fun just messing around in all of the various areas, good or bad, WoW has graced its players with over the years. The fact that I’m more interested in a lot of the previous expansions than the current one doesn’t say a lot for my longevity in this game, but for now, I’m having fun, and I’m managing to scrape together enough gold every month to buy a WoW Token, so I don’t feel too bad just playing what I feel like playing.
Yesterday, World of Warcraft launched its latest expansion, Shadowlands. Normally WoW expansions are kind of a non-event to me, as I’ve never really been a WoW player. I don’t have anything against the game, there were just a few things that kept me out of it. But, while the expansion launch is still kind of a non-event, I have recently gotten sucked into Azeroth, 16 years late.
A few weeks ago, I was looking at my stable of MMOs, and feeling really burned out. Guild Wars 2 is my anchor, of course; I’m always playing that one, and I recently joined a new guild and have been having a lot of fun with them. But I like to have at least one other MMO to play on the side. Elder Scrolls Online’s vampire/Skyrim expansion was really disappointing, so much so that it kind of pushed me out of that game. Besides, I’m tired of action combat, which nixes most newer MMOs. Lord of the Rings Online, my go-to when I feel like a classic tab-target MMO, has been doing its best to demotivate me from playing all year, between its server issues and mini expansion drama. I always think about playing Rift, but given that it’s basically in maintenance mode, it’s hard to get excited about it. I played Star Wars The Old Republic for a few weeks, but with no new classes since launch and only a slow drip of new content, it didn’t hold my attention for long. I tried Final Fantasy XIV again, and once again, it just doesn’t click with me, even though I really can’t explain why.
Then, I started reading about World of Warcraft’s new revamped leveling, which came in with the Shadowlands pre-patch. There were two big things that have always turned me off about WoW when I played the free trial and that one time I tried classic for a month (three if you count the subscription fee in an era where almost everything else is free- or buy-to-play). The first is that the leveling always felt slow and unrewarding, taking way too long to get me into the unique mechanics of my class, then, once I hit the higher levels, giving me nothing of interest for leveling up except an excuse to get new gear.
The second is the daunting task of getting up a hundred-some levels before I can group with my friends. This was fixed to a certain extent with the introduction of level scaling, but as someone with a severe case of alt-itis, I don’t think I could stick to one character for that long, and going through the same old hundred-some levels of content repeatedly on multiple characters doesn’t sound exciting either.
With this level squish, however, WoW has managed to remove both of those barriers. In a week, I had several characters at or near the free trial cap of 20 (which is significantly farther than the old 20), and I had decided I wanted to main my Dwarf Death Knight. Zombie pets, DoTs, and a little bit of health syphoning. What’s not to love? The new tutorial zips players from 1-10 in an hour or so, better prepares them for the game (for instance, it hands you several bags instead of expecting you to know to track down a bag merchant the first chance you get), dumps you out in your faction’s capital city, points you toward the riding trainer, and lets you decide your destiny from there, be that continuing with the Battle of Azeroth expansion, or picking one of the others to level through. I’ve gone through the racial starting zone on a few of my characters, but I like that they now give the option to bypass that and just get on with the action. Sometimes that’s what you want.
In under two weeks of relatively casual play, I have nearly leveled my Death Knight to 50, and am most of the way through Kul Tiras. I tanked one dungeon with a friend, which was a mistake, partly because DK tanks are in a bad spot at the moment, but mainly because their tanking rotation is fairly complex, so just switching to it and hoping to learn as I went didn’t work out very well. I quickly switched back to DPS, and decided to level a different class as a tank. Maybe a Monk? That stagger mechanic sounds really cool and unique.
My main goal right now is to unlock Mechagnomes. I have a simple rule: If an MMO gives me the opportunity to play as a steampunk cyborg, I play as a steampunk cyborg. You can bet that I will be heading to Mechagon as soon as I ding 50, and rolling a hunter with a mechanical dog pet shortly thereafter.
My favorite feature of Shadowlands so far is that those stupid zombies are no longer exploding on me every time I try to use the auction house. Seriously, who thought that event was a good idea? As a humans vs zombies PvP instance it might have been fun, but in random old world maps, including capital cities, it’s just annoying. Rant aside, I haven’t bought Shadowlands yet and probably won’t right away. As fun as it can be to be a part of the initial rush to gobble up new content, there’s just so much old stuff that’s new to me that it doesn’t make sense to drop money on an expansion just because it’s shiny and everyone else is doing it. I’ll wait until I’ve seen most of the old expansion content, or for it to go on sale, whichever comes first.
It turns out now is a great time to get into World of Warcraft. I’m having a lot more fun than I have in any of my previous attempts to get into the game, and it’s nice to feel like there is a feast of content ahead of me. Not everything is perfect (I’ve had to find addons to do a lot of things that I feel should have been built into the game by now, and the community definitely doesn’t live up to the “subscription fees keep out trolls” meme) but I’m having fun and playing with friends, and that’s what matters most.